Our lifeboat crews come from all walks of life. They are builders, electricians, software engineers, estate agents, teachers, doctors, garden designers, bankers… well, I could go on. Back when my Dad worked as an RNLI Divisional Inspector, though, most of the crew members were maritime professionals. An on the east coast of England, that meant one thing. Fishermen.
I’m not talking about the people who sit on the end of the pier with a rod. I mean men – and, occasionally, women – who set out to sea in small boats to satisfy out appetite for all things seafood. Sea bass, sole, mackerel, plaice, whiting. Lobsters, crabs, oysters, prawns. You name it, they caught it. Because that was how they made their living and fed their families.
My Dad loved visiting those stations with a fishing fleet (which was most of them), because he was a big fan of seafood and could be guaranteed a good dinner of local fare. He also, over time, found that it was with seafood that his crews expressed their gratitude for the time and effort he spent helping them out.
He would frequently arrive home with a pair of fresh fish, explaining how he had found them – wrapped neatly – on the bonnet of his car that morning. My sisters and I were always thrilled with these discoveries, complete with bulging eyes (the fish, that is, not us), silvery skin and an aroma of the sea.
My mum, however, was not always so thrilled. On one occasion, Dad arrived home and announced that he had some fresh lobsters and crabs in the boot of the car. Mum opened the boot and reached inside, only to discover that our dinner was still very much alive. And, so to speak, running free range inside the car. We eventually managed to catch them all, but Mum was always a little more cautious after that.
On another occasion, Dad turned up with some live prawns. More used to frozen crustaceans from the supermarket, Mum boiled up a pan of water on the hob and threw the prawns in. The prawns, knowing what was good for them, promptly jumped out again. It was only at this point that my Dad, overcome with laughter, suggested that she might like to put them in cold water and slowly bring it to a boil.
While lifeboat crew members may no longer all make their living from the sea, this connection to our coastal waters remains in the work that they do. But the sea is now much more than a place of work. It is a place of leisure and of exploration. As well as a source of food. And I, for one, am still a big fan of a nicely cooked piece of pollock or of a succulent crab sandwich. My mum, it may not surprise you to hear, is now a vegetarian.